THE CHARLIE TRIE QUESTION
July 29, 1997
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SEN. FRED THOMPSON: As we know, foreign contributions are illegal. As we know, contributions in the names of another, and apparently Mr. Trie facilitated both kinds of those contributions.
KWAME HOLMAN: Charlie Trie is a former Little Rock restauranteur who moved to Washington after Bill Clinton was elected President. He contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic National Committee and to the President's legal defense fund, all of which has been returned. Trie, a naturalized citizen of the United States, wasn't available to tell his story today. He left the country late last year just as the investigation into alleged campaign fund-raising abuses began to point in his direction. Reportedly, he now is in China. So this morning FBI agent Jerry Campane tried to tell Charlie Trie's story as best he could using the information compiled during a three-month investigation he helped carry out for the committee.
JERRY CAMPANE, FBI: We interviewed a number of Little Rock, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C. area residents, who are familiar with Trie and his businesses. These interviews reveal that Trie rose from a busboy to co-owner with his sister, Fu Lin, of a Chinese restaurant located just a few blocks from the Arkansas state capitol. Among the politicians who frequented Fu Lin and became friends with Charlie Trie was then Governor Bill Clinton. Trie was a strong and vocal Clinton political supporter throughout Clinton's years as governor. And Trie was extremely proud when his friend, Bill Clinton, became President of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: According to campaign, Trie gave up the restaurant and in September 1994 moved to Washington.
JERRY CAMPANE: And he leased a residential cooperative apartment at the Watergate. Although Trie was advised that the Watergate rent was more than his business could afford, appearance was important to Trie, and he believed that a Watergate address gave him a certain stature as a businessman. He used his Watergate venue to host delegations of visiting Chinese businessmen and officials, who gathered for receptions and parties with Trie's local friends and political contacts.
KWAME HOLMAN: Records shows Trie's business ventures did not make much profit, but between 1994 and 1996, Trie, a frequent visitor to the White House, managed to contribute $220,000 to the DNC.
JERRY CAMPANE: And I caution that our investigation is still ongoing, and that some of the most significant associates of Mr. Trie, most notably Mr. Umlat Seng, have not yet agreed to talk to us. The name Umlat Seng is difficult to pronounce. I'm going to refer to him by the Mandarin version of his name, which is Mr. Wu.
KWAME HOLMAN: Campane described Mr. Wu as a real estate tycoon and casino owner in the Portuguese territory of Macao on the Chinese border.
JERRY CAMPANE: Tri's bank records from mid 1994 to the end of 1996 revealed periodic wire transfers from Mr. Wu to accounts associated with Trie, or one of his businesses, totaling over $900,000.
KWAME HOLMAN: Campane showed a chart to illustrate how Wu and Trie used a complicated method to transfer money through the accounts of several business entities before eventually contributing the money to the Democratic National Committee.
JERRY CAMPANE: And my purpose in putting this chart up is simply to give the committee, an idea of the challenges we face, and reconstructing the flow of funds through these accounts.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Campane had to admit he could trace the $900,000 no further than the bank accounts of Mr. Wu.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) Maine: You don't yet know whether this was Mr. Wu's own money, or whether he, himself, was serving as a conduit for others, is that correct?
JERRY CAMPANE: That is correct, Senator. We attempted to interview Mr. Wu when we--our investigators traveled to Asia. He would refuse to submit to an interview for us.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) Pennsylvania: Is there any way to trace the source of those funds without the cooperation of Mr. Trie, or the officials in Hong Kong, or the officials in whatever country that cooperation may have originated from?
JERRY CAMPANE: We currently don't have the means to determine anything further about these particular companies and their relationship with Charlie Trie.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, I think it's important to make it as plain as we can that unless we have cooperation from people like Mr. Trie or Mr. Wu, or the governmental entities which--where they were incorporated--and the source of those records, we're up against a blind wall in really answering the question which we're all looking for as to whether the source of the funds was the government of China in any definitive, provable way, aren't we?
JERRY CAMPANE: That is correct, Senator.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Dick Durbin didn't exactly come to Charlie Trie's defense at today's hearing but wanted to make clear it was too soon to say he had committed any crime.
SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) Illinois: The information you brought before us today is very suspicious. It leads to the possibility of the conclusion that he has laundered money. I would not go as far as you've gone today based on what you've presented in saying that he has laundered money. I do also want to add here that I think this leap that many of my colleagues have made into a Chinese plot from this is still yet to be proven.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, two Chinese women were called to explain how they helped Mr. Wu gain access to a Washington fund-raising dinner attended by the President. The two women, legal residents of the United States, said they were asked to write checks to the Democratic National Committee on behalf of Mr. Wu, who could not contribute legally himself. The women only agreed to testify under a grant of immunity, which the committee approved.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: It provides that evidence obtained from you, under the order may not be used against you in any criminal proceedings.
KWAME HOLMAN: The husband of one of the women worked for Mr. Wu.
DON BUCKLIN, Majority Counsel: Did he discuss with you any request by his boss, Mr. Wu, for assistance, for money, to allow him to attend any political function?
YUE F. CHU: (speaking through interpreter) All he said was that his boss wanted to come visit the states, and he wanted to visit the White House, and he wanted us to help him buy a ticket.
KWAME HOLMAN: The two women said they wrote checks totaling $25,000 to the DNC and were reimbursed by an associate of Mr. Wu's.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Did you know, Ms. Chu, at the time you had written these checks that this was an illegal transaction to get Mr. Wu into the dinner?
YUE F. CHU: (speaking through interpreter) At the time I had no idea.
KWAME HOLMAN: The campaign fund-raising hearings continue tomorrow.